Learning how to use parenthesis is key to any English grammar class or punctuation lesson. If you have any questions regarding the proper use of parenthesis continue reading this guide.

The use of parenthesis is often confused with the use of commas, or a single comma, dashes, and more, the list can go on. Therefore, you need to learn how to use it properly and distinguish one form of punctuation from others.

It's common for students to confuse it with brackets too. Not to worry, you will eventually get the hang of it, but you first need to learn the differences and practice how to use each one. In no time you will dominate not only parenthesis but every other form of punctuation.

Any teacher will try to set you up during a quiz on the subject, so be sure to practice enough!

You can also learn about the Difference Between Adjective and Adverb or What's the Difference Between a Hyphen and a Dash.

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If you are closing an argument, it's better not to include any new information and at the end of the sentence opt for a period instead of an exclamation point. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
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What is parenthesis?

As you might already know, the use of parentheses allows the writer to provide new information to a sentence, it can clarify an idea or explain it further.

However, the information inside the parentheses should not alter the meaning or sense of a sentence. The best way to verify if you placed correctly the parentheses is by removing the information in between and reading the sentence again. If once you re-read it, the sentence still makes sense, then you will know that you were using them correctly.

The parentheses are there to add information, but this information should never be crucial. The phrase should be able to stand and make complete sense without the words in the parentheses.

The parenthesis is a stylistic device that comes from the Greek word that means “alongside” or “to place”. Saying that parenthesis is a "stylistic device" means that it's a way to make your writing look sophisticated and stylish.

Writers can give the parentheses many uses, but its more popular purpose is to provide extra information that allows the reader to construct the idea better in their minds.

Nonetheless, you should know that the overuse of parenthesis is dangerous. If an essay or a paragraph has too many parentheses it can interrupt the flow of the writing. Your text can end up looking ambiguous and poorly structured.

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If you put an original quotation in between sentences, you have to cite the source at the end of the quote any time, either in a quiz or an essay. Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

Different uses of parenthesis

There can be as many as 10 ways you can use parenthesis in a text but here we will tell you about the four most relevant ones.

Examples, directions, explanations, or clarifications

Whenever you want to mark an example or provide directions, explanations, or clarifications to the reader, you add it using parentheses. This means that you have some extra information you would like to introduce that isn't vital enough to be part of the paragraph but important enough to be added with parentheses.

Remember, the key to knowing whether something goes in parenthesis or not is by removing it from the sentence. If removing the parenthetical remark didn't alter the sense of the sentences, then the information can be inside parentheses.

In-text citations

If you're in high school, it's practically impossible for you to not have used in-text citations after a quotation.

Whenever you paraphrase or quote other authors or sources, you need to enclose in parentheses the information of the author. This way you credit the idea in the sentence to the owner and you're free of facing problems with plagiarism.

Example:

... as evidenced from a recent study in Harvard (Smith, 2016).

In the example, you can verify how the parentheses are used to provide information about the author and the year the study was held.

If you use either APA or MLA in your school, don't worry, in-text citations are pretty much the same for both.

Translations, pronunciations, or equivalents

You can also enclose in parentheses a translation, pronunciation, or an equivalent to the word it preceded.

Example:

In the economic system laissez-faire (let do) the individual is the basic unit in society...

As you can see, the word laissez-faire is in French and the translation is enclosed in the parentheses.

Abbreviations

Finally, you can also use parentheses is only used to introduce an abbreviation in your text.

For instance, if you're talking about the United Nations, you will first put the whole name and add, in parenthesis, the abbreviation (UN). In the rest of the text, you can use the abbreviation without the parentheses.

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If you'd like to answer the question about the types of punctuation that serve to explain or include new information, the answer is dashes, commas (or comma), and more. Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Difference between parenthesis and brackets

Students sometimes get confused about the differences between parenthesis and brackets. You'll find out that they are easy to spot and once you know the rule, you will never mistake them again.

The first thing you should note is that one is round ( ) and the other one has a square shape [ ].

The golden rule for brackets in a list of things that differentiates them from the parentheses is that they are far less common than the latter and they usually mark an interruption.

Brackets, like quotation marks, are used exclusively within a quote or quoted material. If you see brackets it usually means that the information within has been added by someone else. They are used to explain or comment on the quotation.

If you want to explain something further or provide some context within a quote you use brackets; for everything else, you can use parentheses.

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Note that the original form of parentheses is round and brackets are square, and both are complete if used at the beginning and end of a phrase. Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Summary

Note that there are many ways to apply a parenthetical remark in your sentences, and there are also many ways to replace them; for instance, you can use commas, dashes, or brackets.

You are the one who marks the tone and style in your writing. All you need to do first is understand the different ways you can use these forms of punctuation. There isn't one square rule that dictates exact times when you should use one or the other, all you have to do is follow your instincts.

After reading this guide we are sure you are ready to take an English grammar quiz. Other subjects that might come up in a quiz about punctuation are the use of the period, the question mark or exclamation point, differences between hyphen and dash, commas, and much more.

If you want to find out more about English grammar, you can read A Quick Guide to English Grammar or check this article on the proper use of They're, There, and Their.

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